Until its asphyxiation and eventual death, the Daily Times of Nigeria was the Mecca of Nigerian journalism. It was home to a multitude of brilliant minds and first rate writers and journalists; and was also a training ground for emerging young Turk most of whom went on to great heights. The Daily Times of the 1960s and 70s helped shape public and private thinking and also influenced how civil servants formulated and implemented policies. It was a time when Nigeria’s role and place within the global community was assured and so domestic and international decision-makers paid attention to its pulse.
The Daily Times was where you went if you wanted to nourish your mind, satisfy your curiosity, sharpen your intellect or simply wanted a peek into the thinking of the elite and the ruling class. A great many debates and analysis took place on the pages of that icon — all to the delight of students, scholars and public servants. Sadly, those days are long gone. That such an institution was allowed to die and disappear from our landscape and our collective consciousness is a sad commentary on our national life and collective value system. However, many enterprising newspapers remain, i.e. the Punch, the Vanguard, Daily Independent, Daily Trust, ThisDay, the Tribune, and the Guardian. Of all the aforementioned however, arguably or inarguably, the Guardian has remained, for the last two decades or so, the closest to Daily Times.
Nevertheless, I and a number of readers are not entirely satisfied with the Guardian. The paper could do more. It should do more. My angst with the Guardian is that in spite of its stated and unstated goals, and considering the resources at its disposal, has not lived up to its billing and potentials. It is simply not enough to declare one’s enterprise the flagship of Nigerian journalism; it is not enough to declare oneself the conscience of the nation. No. The Nigerian Guardian is capable of doing better. And so it must; otherwise, her rivals would come along, inch by inch, step by step to overtake her in the market place of ideas.
The Guardian is the most reputable Nigerian newspaper; yet the Sun (a tabloid) and the Punch regularly outsells it. Why? How? What are these papers doing right that the Guardian is not doing correctly? You have to be aggressive. Go into the community and let the people know you are there. Let them know you have the better product. Resting on ones laurels is a recipe for disaster. Remember what happened to Newswatch after the sad passing of the great Dele Giwa? Whatever happened to MKO’s Concord? Relying on past glory would not do you any good. You must act as though you are just starting afresh — with wide-eye competitors waiting to do you in.
The public face of the Guardian, at least to most of us who live in the Diaspora, is Dr. Reuben Abati. He is the chair of the editorial board — a wiz kid in his younger days who completed his PhD at the tender age of 24. Whether one agrees with him or not, reading him is a great delight. He has a way with words. Every so often however, I find that he vacillates, hedging his position and making ambiguous statements; he shuffles as if afraid to throw the decisive punch. It could be his nature or his training, or perhaps the reality of contemporary Nigeria’s journalistic and political environment; whatever it is, one gets the feeling that he is afraid of something, fearful for his safety. And so he threads lightly.
This is a man who writes and writes and write yet does not offend. Is he that nice? You can tell he is angry at something or somebody, but he keeps himself in check. He coats his language in honey. Or in sweet-sour sauce. But you see; great journalists and great writers offend. They rock the boat. They make public officials uncomfortable. They prick people’s conscience. They make the elites and the ruling classes rethink their position and pronouncements. Great writers tell it the way it is or the way it ought to be. They strive for social change. Somehow, Abati walks and writes gingerly. And so every now and then I “scream at him” telling him to “throw the punch” and not just throw feeble jabs.
What’s more, when was the last time Abati wrote about international affairs? Or does he have disdain for global politics? What are his take on the US-North Korean imbroglio? Does the deafening silence of the Arab League vis-à-vis Israel’s criminality in Lebanon and Gaza bother him? Does he think about the Western Sahara-Morocco conflict? He ought to be talking about these and other matters — not just about domestic policies and wayward politicians in Nigeria. Same can also be said of Dr. Okey Ndibe who is also a fine writer. A look their most recent essays show men who are more comfortable with domestic matters. Please pay attention to international affairs. Please!
Abati may be the public face of the Nigerian Guardian, but those who run the paper are: Emeka Izeze (Editor in Chief); Debo Adesina (Editor); Banji Adisa (Sunday Editor); and Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo (Sunday Editor). They run a good ship; but they could do better. They should strive for greater height. How? For a start call in computer, and related experts, to catalogue the archives and then make it searchable from A-Z. Any newspaper worthy of its pedigree has a searchable archive. In this regard, the Guardian may charge nominal fee for those who want full access to all its materials in the archive.
Redesign the website to make it look more contemporary, friendly and easy to browse. It won’t be considered sinful if the paper borrows a leaf from the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, or the Washington Post. Come to think of it, is there any reason why the Guardian does not have hourly update of events on its websites? My goodness, this is the Guardian, and not some Igboshere newsletter!
Unlike the Punch and Thisday, the Guardian has a working email address. Even so is there any reason why the Guardian does not acknowledge email messages? And then there have been times when emails bounce back to sender. This newspaper will do well to invest in new technology. The publishers can afford the latest technology.
Hire one or two writers with broad understanding of international affairs to man the foreign desk. Nigerians are not dumb; they are not disinterested in international affairs. Therefore, you need journalists or writers to analyze foreign events for your readers — not just report or reproduce what the foreign presses are saying. In addition to international affair writers, you also need experts in the field of
economics and national security to inform your readers of the implication of events or of government policies in those areas.
The Guardian is a “liberal and independent newspaper, established for the purpose of presenting balanced coverage of events, and of promoting the best interests of Nigeria.” However, the time has come when the paper must look beyond the shores of Nigeria and the African continent. We live in an age of globalization. And so the paper must expand its scope and focus and render more news and analysis of global importance. Likewise, the paper should undertake several domestic efforts on how it operates so as to reach a larger audience at home and abroad. In other words, the Guardian needs a makeover.